Hopefully you have had a chance to catch our reviews of the eight Best Picture nominees! If not, you can find them all here. I promise - they're spoiler-free! :)
There were several of the other films I wasn't able to catch in the past year, mainly due to them being unavailable in my area (short films and documentaries don't get a lot of screen time around here). However, I've seen all eight Best Picture nominees and many of the acting/writing/directing nods, so here are my thoughts as we head into Oscar Night 2015!
Let's get the things I don't have a clue about done first, because I always hate that they are often left out in posts about the Academy Awards, even if most people haven't seen them.
For Live Action Short Film, the nominees are "Aya," "Boogaloo and Graham," "Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)," "Parvaneh," and "The Phone Call." Live Action Shorts intrigue me, because it's so much work and people rarely get to see them in wide distribution. I'm hoping "Butter Lamp" wins but only because I like the fact that Yak is in the title. (See, I know absolutely nothing about these, but they deserve to be mentioned. Bad enough they're always stuck in the far back of the theatre on Oscar Night and then end up getting played off after like ten seconds. Of course, I don't vote, but what's worse is that people who do vote admit that they don't watch all the nominees, either. How is that a thing?)
Documentary Short is the same, where I've seen none yet I wish I had more access. You'd think film channels would work these films into their schedules, since it's not that hard to fit them in, but I guess we really need to see Safe Haven fifty-three more times. Anyway, the nominees are "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," "Joanna," "Our Curse," "The Reaper (La Parka),'" and "White Earth." Hopefully I can catch these at some point.
Surprisingly, I have seen none of the animated films. Usually I've seen at least two or three, but with the absence of The LEGO Movie (anyone have an answer on what that was about yet?), I didn't catch most of these. I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 is likely to win, but I haven't seen either of them yet (look, I don't have kids!! I like animated movies, but they're secondary to the Best Picture noms, okay?). I have heard amazing things about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and I'd love to see something surprising win (especially since this seems like the year the Oscars are showing more love to indie filmmaking - although we'll see how the votes go). The other nominees are Big Hero 6 (hear this is great), The Boxtrolls, and Song of the Sea (I'm voting for this, because no one seems to talk about it and I love underdog stories).
It's also surprising I have seen none of the foreign films or documentaries, since these are film areas I actually love. However, I catch 99.9% of the documentaries I see on Netflix and I don't believe these are yet available. I used to be able to find more foreign films, but we've got a million screens at the cinema at the moment, and nothing worth watching on most of them. Recently, the local theatre was sold to another company and they have a better "arts" program, so ideally we will see more in 2015. I've also added all the nominees to my Netflix queue, so soon maybe?
The Documentary to beat, I hear, is CitizenFour. The other nominees are Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, and Virunga. All of them sound amazing and Virunga is streaming on Netflix right now so I will try to catch that one shortly.
The Foreign Language Film nominees are surprisingly diverse. Where are France and Italy? Don't they generally have a nominee? This year, we have Ida from Poland, Leviathan from Russia, Tangerines from Estonia, Timbuktu from Mauritania, and Wild Tales from Argentina. Ida is streaming, but none of the others are available yet.
The nominees for Sound Mixing, as I mentioned, are the same, except The Hobbit gets swapped out for Whiplash. I am definitely giving the edge to Whiplash, as the drumming sequences, especially the last one, are amazing. I read an interview with the crew and it's impressive how much went into those scenes. This could win, too, since the Oscars like to throw the Best Picture nominees with no real shot at winning a bone.
Visual Effects often feels like the People's Choice Award of the Oscars, since this is where the blockbusters are dumped. Admittedly, the movies don't deserve nominations elsewhere for the most part, but I wouldn't mind seeing something that wasn't a superhero or action movie get a nomination for Visual Effects, because they're not only used to make comic books come to life. Anyway, the nominees are Captain America: The Winter Solider, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. There are a lot of sequels in this list. I didn't see Captain America yet, although it's sitting on the entertainment center from Netflix, and I have yet to enjoy a Planet of the Apes movie (I hear this one is good, though). Still, I easily say Interstellar should get this, because it's also a pretty solid movie (that last third, though, I don't know about). There's a chance it goes to Guardians of the Galaxy, however, since people really seem to like that (I did not, although I likely would have at the age of 10).
Before we move into writing, directing, cinematography, and acting, as well as the overall Best Picture, there are the categories often overlooked: music, editing, and design.
The nominees for Original Score are Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel AND Imitation Game), Hans Zimmer for Interstellar, Gary Yershon for Mr. Turner, and Johann Johannsson for The Theory of Everything. I haven't seen Mr. Turner (although I desperately want to), so my pick goes to Johann Johannsson. However, I think Zimmer will win because people have heard of him and Desplat, but Desplat will end up splitting his own votes most likely.
Personally, I love Costumes, Makeup/Hair, and Production Design. Production Design is likely the category I think needs a lot more emphasis, because it's one of the first things noticed in a film. After Cinematography, Production Design is what makes a movie a movie, rather than a book. Great acting and great scripts, and even great direction, are all useless if the design is wrong. Costumes and makeup play a role here, too, but these are categories that usually seem to be dumping grounds, rather than thoughtfully nominated and voted. That's a shame.
I've actually only seen two of the nominees for Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Maleficent. The other nominees are Inherent Vice (I so want to see this!), Mr. Turner, and Into the Woods. I think The Grand Budapest Hotel deserves this one, but having only seen two, I can't say if it will win or truly is the best.
For Production Design, the money is probably on The Grand Budapest Hotel, because it's quirky but also realistic. It stands out, but of the other nominees I've seen (The Imitation Game and Interstellar), I think I would have to give it to The Imitation Game. The subtlety of capturing so much detail from a recent period in history, without making it look like a film or making a mistake, is underrated. Plus they had to include a Turing machine. The other nominees are Into the Woods and Mr. Turner.
Things start getting complicated with screenplays. When people complain about inaccuracies in the history in The Imitation Game, they forget that the filmmakers aren't doing the research on the validity of the source material. That's on the author of the book, not the screenwriter, and there's nothing worse than Hollywood taking a source and just doing whatever they want anyway.
The Adapted Screenplay nominees are American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. I haven't seen Inherent Vice, but my vote would go to The Imitation Game. The screenplay wasn't the strongest part of Whiplash, American Sniper was just an overall disappointment, and I felt like The Theory of Everything was maybe too kind in places. (Again, I think all these movies were fantastic, but in how I would vote, I have to look at what could be viewed as weaknesses.)
I will do acting before directing and cinematography, because cinematography is actually my favorite award. Supporting Actor nominees are Robert Duvall in The Judge (the only one I haven't seen), Ethan Hawke in Boyhood, Ed Norton in Birdman, Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher, and JK Simmons in Whiplash. Although they likely already mailed Simmons his statue since it's so clear he's winning, I actually would have voted for Mark Ruffalo. His performance was nuanced and impressive and I think he's an incredible actor. To be fair, ALL of these men deserve to win and are incredible.
I have seen less of the Supporting Actress nominees. I haven't seen Wild, which earned a nod for Laura Dern (as well as a Best Actress nomination for Reese Witherspoon), or Into the Woods, although Meryl Streep could have been in a GEICO ad and she would have been nominated. The other nominations are Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, and Emma Stone in Birdman. Everyone seems to favor Patricia Arquette, although I loved Boyhood but I'm not sure it deserves to win anything except Best Picture. It's one of those movies with solid acting, writing, and directing, but that wins as a cohesive whole rather than in parts. Keira Knightley kind of was just there (she didn't have much to work with), so I am giving this to Emma Stone. Her performance was engaging, surprising, and emotional.
There is a weird Oscar phenomenon that happens every single year, and it's worse with social media. A nominee in a category becomes the clear front-runner - and then everyone decides to find a million reasons why that nominee sucks and doesn't deserve it. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. It happened this year with Best Actor and Best Picture, so we will see if the negativity worked. I really hope it didn't.
The Actor nominees are Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton for Birdman, and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything. Although all good performances, only Eddie Redmayne is exceptional. There's often an issue where people think if you play someone with a mental illness or disability, you must be amazing, but even if you ignore the physical acting in this case, Eddie Redmayne shows a great deal of emotion, humor, fear, and humanity in the role as Stephen Hawking. We also see his range and given that the only other thing I've seen him in is Les Miserables, I have to say he's an impressive actor. I feel like both Steve Carell and Michael Keaton were good, but not Best Actor good (again, I am looking for reasons not to pick them). However, since they're making dramatic leaps from their normal roles, they get an edge. I love Bradley Cooper, but didn't think American Sniper gave him much to work with, and Benedict Cumberbatch, although great, played a little close to Sherlock at times in his performance. However, not one of these men is undeserving; I just think Eddie Redmayne was the best and those are nitpicky criticisms in a great year.
The nominees for Director are Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman, Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. All amazing choices. The Academy has this weird obsession with matching Picture and Director, which feels silly to me. A great movie can be the Best Picture, yet second in acting, writing, directing, etc., while an amazing Director can do great things with less than amazing screenplays and actors. Best Picture should be a vote that is the sum of its parts, while each other category should compare that particular focus against the other nominees. Seems reasonable, right?
Anyway, I would give this to Wes Anderson, simply because I think directors who are instantly recognizable should win something for that. Creating a style and brand that's your own, without coming across as gimmicky or pretentious, is hard and Anderson has done that consistently. You can tell he directed a film a few minutes into it, and that's a statement about his direction. I think Linklater will win, though, because they want to give it to him instead of Picture, or the other way around with Birdman winning here and Boyhood winning for Picture.
So, then, Best Picture. Okay, pros and cons of each:
Pro: Made a lot of money and the Oscars like to look they're "of the people."
Con: Fairly mediocre movie that doesn't really say or do much and was done better by The Hurt Locker.
Pro: Great film that capitalizes on Hollywood's own obsession with itself.
Con: Honestly, I'm not sure there is one. I think this is going to win.
Pro: Beautiful and unprecedented film.
Con: Since people liked it and it got all the Oscar hype, now everyone likes to be hip and hate it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Pro: Gives the Academy a chance to prove they're not boring and uptight if a quirky movie wins.
Con: Lacks the longevity of most Oscar picks. Explain to your grandchildren why this won.
The Imitation Game
Pro: Harvey Weinstein has a lot of money and marketing power. Also it's good.
Con: It's a safe pick, and this feels like a year that the Oscars want to prove something.
Pro: The hashtag #oscarssowhite has been trending since nominations were announced, so the Academy can stop that backlash.
Con: It really isn't as good as some of the others, although it's a solid film.
The Theory of Everything
Pro: It's a biopic and timely and interesting and pretty. All things the Academy likes.
Con: It's British. Like really British.
Pro: Everything about it is amazing.
Con: It was made in 19 days for around $3 million. The Academy doesn't like indies that much.
While there's always the chance the Oscars play it safe with The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything, try to prove something by picking Selma or American Sniper, decide to completely reverse 70+ years of expectation with The Grand Budapest Hotel or Whiplash, the truth is it's probably either Boyhood or Birdman. Since Boyhood WAS the frontrunner and everyone decided they suddenly hate it to appear interesting, I think it's going to be Birdman. Plus it's a chance for self-congratulatory nonsense - a faded film star proves his talent and passion for art in the theatre, and The Academy proves their love of "real art" by picking a movie about how much an actor loves real art. (Honestly, everything but American Sniper deserves to win, so probably that will end up winning. I have a love-hate relationship with the Oscars. I always think, like this year, that they're finally going to be more interested in film and art than money and marketing, but they prove me wrong time and time again. Of course, Birdman is even more likely to win given that this is the case!)
What do you think? Anything likely to surprise you at the Oscars? Are you watching them?